How to Edit an Essay for Structure

For many people, the hardest part is the first part, which is just getting that admissions essay down on paper.

Sometimes people have a hard time working up the motivation, and other times people feel blocked by lack of confidence in their writing, but once you’ve started, you have every reason to celebrate. The unfailing rule of thumb is that it’s always easier to clean up an essay than it is to start with a completely blank page.

But before you run off to drop the essay in the mailbox, you need to complete a few more steps. Just a little extra care before you send the essay on its way can improve your hard work even more.

editing college essays

Why Structure is So Important

Structure is what makes essays readable. It’s what allows your thoughts to be thoroughly understood and followed by others. Many people have great ideas, but they have a hard time communicating those ideas well. Structure is one of the first things they can improve when they’re trying to get their point across.

The structure of your essay can go beyond a simple five-paragraph scheme with a beginning, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

In fact, the structure needs to relate directly to the content of your essay. It’s extremely worthwhile to spend a minute outlining exactly what you’d like to say, and then building on these points.

If you’re editing a partially completed essay, try doing what is called a reverse outline. The idea is to read each of  your paragraphs, and see if you can make an outline according to the main themes of those paragraphs, along with sub-themes that illustrate your main points. Many times, people will have a difficult time making a reverse outline of their own writing, and when this happens, it’s a sure sign that a reader will have a hard time answering this very important question for themselves: “What is this paper/passage/paragraph about?”

Transitional sentences are mentioned a lot when teachers and tutors give advice to beginning students, and the main idea is for the last sentence in one paragraph, or the first sentence in the next paragraph, to show the relation between the two main ideas in each paragraph.

In a well--structured essay, you should be able to read the first sentence of a paragraph and have some idea of what came before it in the previous paragraph, why this idea is immediately following the previous one, and how these ideas are connected.

Why You Need to Edit for Structure

Many people are blind to the details of their writing until they’ve taken some time away from it.

Until they perform this crucial step, they can’t read it and have an understanding of what it looks like to a total outsider, someone who is completely new to the topic. Being able to imagine what it’s like to read your essay for the first time, and see it with a newcomer’s eyes, is a crucial skill in self-editing.

After you’ve completed a draft of your admissions essay, you should ideally let it rest for a week or so before you pick it up again.

This way, you’ll have a fresh perspective when entering the revision process.

Editing for structure will allow you to organize your essay for once and for all. You can take any ideas that still seem like fragments and develop them fully. You can connect vague points, which you weren’t able to see before, and make sure they coincide with the major theme of the essay.

Basically, you give yourself a chance to see the flaws and shortcomings of your writing before you send it out to an entire review board for admissions.

editing college essays

How to Edit for Structure

You will need to go through the entire essay and watch for several different elements of organization and content order.

For instance, take the introduction.

Does it properly introduce the essay? Is there a clear and concise thesis? Is it clear what the tone of your paper will be?

The introduction is very important because it tells the reader not only what the essay will be about, but also how you will relay the information.

The body paragraphs need attention as well.

  • Does each paragraph include one solid point for which you supply sufficient evidence?
  • Do any sentences fail to stay in direct relation to the thesis?
  • Are any sentences void of true purpose?

If you find you are repeating your ideas, or leading into territory that doesn’t help support the main topic of the essay, you should consider removing extra material.

Editing an essay for structure allows you to mold the piece of writing into the finished product you envisioned. It also allows you to create your best work possible. Once you complete this edit, make sure you also edit the essay for style.

In the end, you’ll be glad you took this extra time to edit appropriately. You not only end up with a stronger essay, but also a better shot at being accepted.

Also, be sure that each paragraph ends with a smooth transition. It can be startling to jump from one point to the next without a connecting sentence in between.

Finally, the conclusion needs to wrap everything up.

  • Do you provide the reader with a new look on the information you’ve already provided?
  • Does the paragraph provide a summation of why your thesis is important, and why it is well-supported by your body paragraphs?

You want to make sure the concluding paragraph is especially strong. This paragraph is what the reviewers will remember the most.